Cocaine Seizures Reveal Ecuadorian Drug Trafficking Routes
The volume of cocaine trafficked through Ecuador is on the rise. Enhanced data analytics approaches are bringing situational awareness to narcotrafficking tactics, techniques, and procedures. Here’s how data can disrupt cocaine smuggling to the U.S. and partner nations.
3GIMBALS recently conducted an extensive research project that shows how Colombian cocaine is trafficked through Ecuador and into international markets. By documenting 150 cocaine seizures totaling approximately 113 metric tons of cocaine, 60% of Ecuador’s total cocaine seizures in 2021, analysts showed how cocaine is smuggled across the porous northern border onto major roadways, and then trafficked internationally through containers, small vessels, commercial flights, and narco-planes.
By fusing imagery analysis and mobile device data, the 3GIMBALS team identified the 11 most frequently used crossings between Ecuador and Colombia. Our experts also correlated open source reporting of two cocaine seizures at airstrips to specific locations in Ecuador, sparking an imagery review that identified 88 potentially clandestine airstrips in western provinces.
Data showed traffickers most often used border crossings near Tulcan and General Falcon to get cocaine into Ecuador before reaching major roadways and flowing towards Ecuador’s coasts. Ecuadorian counternarcotics agencies seized a record 189 metric tons by mid-December 2021, compared to 128 metric tons in 2020, with most of the seizures around the port city of Guayaquil.
Reporting indicates that narco-planes play a minor role in trafficking cocaine from Ecuador into Central America, with only 7 out of 150 documented seizures possibly associated with airstrips. However, a flight tracking radar designed to counter illicit activity was destroyed within 2 weeks of becoming operational in 2021, suggesting air trafficking may play a larger, underreported role in cocaine flows.
By deeply researching two of the largest cocaine seizures in Ecuador, analysts gained insights into narcotrafficker tactics, techniques, and procedures, such as the use of signal inhibitors and reprisal attacks following seizures. These seizures, both in the Guayaquil port city, highlight the prominent role commercial maritime plays in cocaine flows to international markets.
As the volume of cocaine trafficked through Ecuador continues to increase and the role of organized crime expands, enhanced data-driven analytical approaches are crucial to providing situational awareness on narcotrafficking tactics, techniques, and procedures. These analytical approaches are a foundation for developing courses of action focused on illuminating and disrupting cocaine smuggling via Ecuador to destinations in the U.S. and partner nations.